We all knew it would happen. How could it not. She had at least three sisters who had had it. In fact, we were all surprised it hadn't happened before it did. One fateful day his sister stopped by...Mom has a lump in her breast, she told us. None of us were optimistic...with her history how could we be.
The day of the surgery the hospital waiting room looked like a family reunion. There were at least 15 of us there...husband, children, grandchildren, sister, nieces. The Dr. did a lumpectomy and there would be follow up radiation. Prognosis was good. Recovery was difficult...tamoxifen for five years...no walk in the park: the hot flashes are worse than menopause I am told. But a small price to pay for your life!
Lumpectomy...she was never satisfied with the results. Always said if she knew her breast was going to look like it did she would have opted for a complete removal. She showed me once, it made me so sad...the medical profession should call it a partial breast removal as more than a third of her breast was gone. The scar tissue caused her so much pain, always pulling and rubbing against her bra. But again a small price to pay for your life!
Fast forward four years...another mass is found in what is left of the breast. Again, there is a family reunion at the hospital. But we are not celebrating. There is fear and the air is thick with dread. This time there is no biopsy to determine what is to be done. She just wants that irritating thing gone. "Get rid of it," she says. "I don't want to be bothered with it anymore!"
In less than an hour the Dr. is in the waiting room telling us the matriarch of our family is fine...there was no cancer. My husband's mother, my children's grandmother, the only woman I have to call mother is without a breast...but does not have any remnants of that insidious disease we call cancer.
Months later she and I are together. She asks if I want to see her scar. It appears important for her to share this with me so I say yes. She lifts her shirt and before me where the breast that nourished her three children is an angry, jagged seam, transversing the center of her chest. It looked more liked a battle wound than a surgical incision. It was a battle wound. For she had fought a battle...a battle for her life...and she had won.
I reached out and gingerly touched the souvenir of her battle and instantly tears were falling from my eyes. I felt such a loss for her. I couldn't imagine what I would have done if it were me and my breast were gone. She looked at me and this is what she said:
"Oh honey, don't you cry for that old breast of mine. I'm an old woman. What do I need a breast for. Your dad doesn't care if I have a breast. I glad to be done with the worry. Should have had it removed to begin with. And if I need it, I just pull it out of the drawer and put it in my bra." And we laughed.
She is a survivor and not because she survived breast cancer. She is a survivor because she survived it with a sense of humor and an ability to comfort others through her own adversity.
Remind those women you love and even those you don't, to have their mammograms and to do their self-checks. October is breast cancer awareness month...be aware...spread the word...Save your TA TA's!